Blustery winds whipped through the Jekyll Island Beach Village Saturday afternoon, but the gusts did not deter the thousands that flocked to Whiskey, Wine and Wildlife. The annual food and spirits festival drew participants from throughout the region and beyond who turned out to sample a multitude of libations, food and homemade wares. The proceeds from the event benefited the Jekyll Island Foundation, which supports area wildlife.

Bundled up against the elements, Randy Urben, Amy Sullivan, Ann Grainger and Jackie Butcher, all of Brunswick, made their way through the lines of assembled vendors.

“It’s a beautiful day ... we don’t mind the wind, it keeps the gnats away. And I’m in good company,” Urben said with a laugh. “Plus it’s all for a good cause, benefiting wildlife.”

“We’re regulars here,” Grainger added. “It’s nice to get outdoors. It has a really relaxed atmosphere and is a great way to kick off the new year.”

Gregg Snyder agrees. The master distiller and his team with Dixie Vodka and Chicken Cock Whiskey traveled down from Charleston to participate in the weekend’s events. Snyder led a master pour class at the Westin Friday and was on hand to share his knowledge with attendees Saturday.

“I’ve been in the business for 40 years, but it’s very different now. People are much more knowledgeable and much more engaged,” he said. “They ask great questions, and they really get into it. We love coming down for this.”

Other vendors shared that sentiment. Sarah Marie Johnston of Moxie Kitchen and Cocktails in Jacksonville traveled with her team to share samples and spread the word about their restaurant.

“This is our second year here. My husband, the chef, Tom Grey, did the Thursday night dinner this time and now we’re out here,” Johnston said Saturday. “We really love it because it’s so well orchestrated. We see a lot of new guests and we see as many people from Jacksonville as from other places.”

Of course, not all the participants were from out of town. Christopher Gannt who is opening a new location in downtown Brunswick, Reid’s Apothocary, was also on hand to meet the crowd. Gannt and Steven Bogert participated in the bartender’s challenge, serving up a cocktail made with Cooper’s Craft Whiskey, which included chamomile, ginger syrup, acaia honey, lemon and clove.

“We’re out here promoting the new restaurant and meeting people,” Gannt said. “It’s definitely a lot of fun.”

That was true event though Gannt didn’t walk away with the award for the best beverage. That went to Bretta Van Bockel of Moondoggy’s in Brunswick. Attendees also voted for the best barbecue with the honor going to Bryan Furman of B’s Cracklin BBQ in Savannah.

While the food and libations flowed, the weekend would not be complete without the third element of the mix — the wildlife. Throughout the day, members of the Jekyll Island Authority offered segments highlighting animals in the area. And, unsurprisingly, one of the most popular was the “protecting our predators” portion, which featured snakes.

Attendees, young and old, flocked to the centrally located tent where Joseph Colbert of the JIA introduced the crowd to various serpents who call the coast home. While some declined to get up close and personal with the special guests, one visitor simply could not get enough.

Kingston Myers, 4, watched the demonstration with his father and was entirely enthralled. The little one gently petted Sylvester, a black rat snake, and smiled.

“It’s cool,” he summarized, grinning.

Jan Gourley of AdFish, who helped organize the event, says that this year’s W3 was the largest ever.

“Saturday was a record attendance day — 2,000 people — windy weather encouraged whisky drinkers,” she said.

“We’re looking forward to brainstorming with the Jekyll Island Authority on how to make it even better festival guest experience for next year.”

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